Monday, October 31, 2011

Conservation & Etosha National Park

Week 9

Katelyn and Mia

Throughout the semester we have spent a great deal of time meeting with speakers in different city and town areas, taking classes, and enjoying time and learning with homestay families. While all of this has been tremendously significant, traveling in Namibia feels a bit incomplete without experiencing the country’s rich wildlife! After striking experiences in northern Namibia at our rural homestays we climbed into the kombi for a long ride to Etosha. We camped at two of the campsites, Halali and Okaukuejo, where we spent time together with a braai, game drives, and trips to the watering hole, a place at which tourists can sit and watch animals bathe, drink and relax. We spent hours in the evening by watering holes captivated by the animals, including elephants, giraffes, zebras, kudus, rhinos, and countless indigenous birds. It was fascinating to view the animals so closely, and it certainly puts into perspective that we share this earth with some magnificent creatures (Photo 1: Giraffes by the Watering Hole).

Although there are numerous animals in Etosha, the number of many species, including black rhino, white rhino, and cheetah, has been shrinking over past decades, largely due to human disturbance. Conservation is very important to Namibia; it is even guaranteed by the constitution. In fact, Namibia was the first African country to include protection of the environment in its constitution. We were fortunate to speak with one of the authorities in Etosha, Matt*, who gave us a great deal of information about the park. He discussed one of the most recent threats to the park: a fire that resulted in the loss of 300,000 hectares and a small number of animals, including elephants, giraffes, kudus, lions, and rhinos. The fire was started from coal burning in a nearby farm and spread into the park. This fire was extinguished and the next day, a smaller lightning fire occurred.** We wondered if there was any reaction plan to this event, or even if the government would step in to provide funding to help stop the fires. We learned that Etosha did its best to contain the fire, and it eventually died out.

While fires are sometimes natural occurrences, such as the lightning fire, human interference does need to be countered. Matt informed us that decades ago there were nearly 200 cheetahs roaming freely in Etosha, and today their population is estimated between 30 and 50. This relatively dramatic decrease is partly a result of human interference. As humans have pushed their way further and further into the animal kingdom, they disrupt the balance of nature. The rhino has also become an endangered species due to the increase in illegal poaching in pursuit of its horn. It is easy to get caught up in our daily lives and pay little to no mind to the beautiful creation that surrounds us and how we go about interacting with it. Illegal poaching, excessive pollution, moving into and destroying animals’ habitats, and other harmful actions towards nature need to stop or there will no longer be much sustainability in the natural world.

As inhabitants of the earth, we have an inherent social responsibility to take of nature. Through their work, the employees of the park live out this responsibility. On the other hand, we learned from Matt about the San communities who were removed from the Etosha region before the park was established. The San people once lived in harmony with the animals and moved from place to place when necessary. While we have a social responsibility to protect the land, that doesn’t necessarily need to involve pushing the San people out of their homeland. There is some talk today about reconciling with the San people, but it will never be as it was before for them. How might we all best move forward to take care of our earth? The moment we recognize ourselves as a part of this remarkable creation rather than separate from it is the moment we begin to move forward in harmony for conservation and preservation (Photo 2: Strolling through Etosha ).

Additionally, Matt told us about the intricate link between conservation and tourism, which plays a huge role in Namibia. Etosha alone sees about two million tourists each year, according to Matt. It is a large source of revenue that informs others about Namibia and the wonderful things it has to offer. Tourists come in from all over the world and learn about the animals in the region, the history of the park, and what is going on with conservation in the country. There is also a government funded research center in the park where undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world can come to conduct research in related fields. Hopefully those who come to Etosha, as a tourist, researcher, or anything else, can help to inform others back home about the importance of conservation and taking an active role in protecting our world’s wildlife. We definitely came away with a greater appreciation for the natural world of Namibia and a deeper understanding of the realities of human imposition in the area.

We feel very strongly about the importance of conservation and being educated about the matter. While the space of Etosha is protected by humans, some things are nature-made and will still take their course, like the fire that had swept through Etosha only days earlier. There is much to be learned from mother nature, even if her processes don’t always make sense to us. After such an amazing few days, the drive home was a bittersweet one, with a great experience behind us and the promise of home ahead of us—one night at home that is, and then off to fall break!



Photo 3: Up Close and Personal with Lions

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